Hello and welcome again to Lechem Panim. We have been talking about the first great persecution of the Early Church, which begins in Acts chapter 7 with the stoning of the first Christian martyr; Stephen. After his death, the Church is driven out of Jerusalem and Philip the apostle even goes so far as to take the good news of the Gospel of Christ into the region of Samaria.
And today I would like for us to take a look at a passage of scripture that ties in and really helps for us to apply what is happening here in Acts chapter 8 to our own lives. And that is James chapter 1. We’ll start with verses 1-2. It reads…
James 1:1-2 (ESV)— 1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
Now James was probably written before A.D. 50. If that dating is correct, then it makes James [the earliest of all the NT writings—with the possible exception of Galatians.]
A Greeting Command to Rejoice-- And so imagine, the first command given in what is very likely the very first Christian epistle, is a command that completely changes forever how Christians are to think about trials, tribulations, and persecutions. First he says "Greetings" which (as we’ll talk about later) is actually a call to Rejoice. Then he says in verse 2: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
Why God?!!!!-- Now when you and I face trials in our lives, our tendency is often to immediately shift into frustration. God, why are you allowing this in my life? Did I do something wrong? Are you angry with me? Do you really care about? If you do, how can you allow this to happen to me?
Count It Joy— But the very first point made in what is likely the very first book ever written in the New Testament is that suffering is not something to complain about, but something to rejoice about. Notice I didn’t say we are to rejoice in. Many people say that we are to maintain joy even in difficult circumstances. And that is true. But James isn’t talking about only keeping joy in the midst of trials. James says to count it joy when we meet trials. Trials themselves are what he says ought to produce joy in us. And I want you to catch that because that was one of the most profound concepts these early Christians in the book of Acts had.
Martyrs Embracing Trials-- And when you look at the early Christian martyrs (of whom Stephen here is the first), that’s exactly what you find; Christians who rejoice not only within difficult circumstances, but rejoice because of difficult circumstances. And part of that is that they have the privilege in partaking with Christ in His sufferings. But again it goes further than that. They rejoice not only because they are participating with Christ in His suffering, but because that suffering is the means through which Christ is maturing their faith and developing and drawing them close to Him.
Taking our Arm— James Packer makes this point pretty clear in his book Your Father Loves You. He says [This is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with troubles ... of one sort and another -- to ensure that we shall learn to hold him fast. ...When we walk along a clear road feeling fine, and someone takes our arm to help us, likely we would impatiently shake him off; but when we are caught in rough country in the dark, with a storm brewing and our strength spent, and someone takes our arm to help us, we would thankfully lean on him. And God wants us to feel that our way through life is rough... , so that we may learn to lean on him thankfully. Therefore he takes steps to drive us out of self-confidence to trust in himself, to -- in the classic scriptural phrase for the secret of the godly man's life -- "wait on the Lord."]
Persecution the Engine of the Church-- Some time ago I remember I had a conversation with a gentleman about the persecution that the Church is going through. And we talked about the reality that in and throughout history, persecution became the engine that drove the Church. The harder the Church was persecuted, the more they grew. And I think part of that was that people witnessed how these Christians suffered; the joy they found in and through suffering. And they wanted that in their lives too.
“I am one of them”-- In the third century, a famous Christian name St. Cyprian (on his way to die a martyr’s death) wrote from Carthage to a friend of his named Donatus: “This seems a cheerful world, Donatus, when I view it from this fair garden under the shadow of these vines. But if I climbed some great mountain and looked out over the wide lands, you know very well what I would see; brigands on the high road, pirates on the seas, in the amphitheaters men murdered to please the applauding crowds, under all roofs misery and selfishness. It really is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. Yet, in the midst of it, I have found a quiet and holy people. They have discovered a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of this sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians…and I am one of them.”
I love what he says, “They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world.” These Christians had that strength of character; the steadfastness that trials produce;.
Steadfastness Through Testing— And James’ second point is that that steadfastness comes through testing. He says...
James 1:3 (ESV)— 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
In fact, you might also accurately say that steadfastness comes only through testing. We are never growing more than when we are tested; than when we are meeting resistance.
Resistance Suits— [On December 29, 1987, a Soviet cosmonaut returned to the earth after 326 days in orbit. He was in good health, which hasn't always been the case in those record-breaking voyages. Five years earlier, touching down after 211 days in space, two cosmonauts suffered from dizziness, high pulse rates, and heart palpitations. They couldn't walk for a week, and after 30 days, they were still undergoing therapy for atrophied muscles and weakened hearts. At zero gravity, the muscles of the body begin to waste away because there is no resistance. To counteract this, the Soviets prescribed a vigorous exercise program for the cosmonauts. They invented the "penguin suit," a running suit laced with elastic bands. It resists every move the cosmonauts make, forcing them to exert their strength. Apparently the regimen is working.
We often long dreamily for days without difficulty, but God knows better. The easier our life, the weaker our spiritual fiber, for strength of any kind grows only by exertion.]
Perfect & Complete— But there was another thing that Cyprian, on his way to die, pointed out that is absolutely important for us to grasp if we are to understand what fruit steadfastness produces in our lives. He says of Christians, “They are masters of their souls.” In other words they are not in bondage to sin any longer, but are living lives free of sin. Sin has no authority over their souls whatsoever. And that is James’ third and last point. He says...
James 1:4 (ESV)— 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Becoming Holy-- He doesn’t say partially holy; partially perfect but still sinning occasionally. No, the kind of perfection that he is talking about is a present perfection that is complete, lacking in nothing. God offers us, in the trials we face every day, the means of becoming holy. Why can we rejoice in suffering? Because in it we become more like Christ; in it we become perfect and complete, lacking nothing. The first teaching given in the New Testament to some of the very first believers in the early church is that we are called to be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. We are called to be holy; not perfect in the sense that we won’t make mistakes, but perfect in the sense that we are so filled with God’s love and presence that He gives us the necessary spiritual equipment to resist temptation and be and remain victorious over sin; to be masters of our souls.
Pushing Through-- And so what I think what James wants us to understand about trials and suffering is that when we know what the purpose of suffering is, though we might not immediately see why we are going through a particular suffering, we can get through it because we know that in that suffering God is making us more like Himself. Even if we don’t know why we are going through it or why God has allowed it, we know what God is using it for in our lives; to move us towards that perfection in holiness. And it is in those moments that we are closest to Him and and growing the most.
“Rejoice”-- In the first line of James, he says “Greetings”. But that word [“Greeting”--that translation is a little stilted, for the word in the Greek literally means “rejoice.” He writes to them and says, “Rejoice.”] Joy in Christ through trials is, in the mind of James, the starting point of what it means to be a Christian. Not to get overwhelmed; not to ask “why me”, but to rejoice that in our suffering we are being made perfect, lacking nothing.
Joining Hands— Are you overwhelmed with life today? Or are you rejoicing in your Lord? Are you allowing trials to break your spirit, or are you allowing those trials to produce the steadfastness of Christ in you? As you go to work this week; as you take life day by day, you will face trials. There may be people like Saul who seek to ravage you; circumstances that are bringing you down. But the question is, “Will you allow those trials to draw you closer to God or drive you farther away from Him.” “Will you allow Christ to take your hand and, drawing you closer to Him, lead you through the darkness?” This week, rejoice that God is using your trials and persecutions to make you more like Him and to further His salvation work. Glory in your suffering so that in your suffering the world might see in you the glory of Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.